This conversation is part of SurfingNASH’s 2021 NAFLD Year-In-Review. Professor Jeffrey Lazarus of ISGlobal and the University of Barcelona joins Louise Campbell and Roger Green to discuss the emerging NAFLD public health agenda.
Jeff Lazarus comes to the effort to create a global NAFLD Public Health agenda from his experiences spearheading similar efforts in HIV and Hepatitis C. The conversation begins with Jeff describing the path by which he shifted focus from each liver disease to the next. Just as a reduction in HIV transition rates revealed the high level of Hepatitis C infections among HIV patients (particularly intravenous drug users), the reduction in Hepatitis C incidence following the advent of the direct-acting antivirals revealed still-significant levels and growth rates of liver cirrhosis. This in turn revealed the degree to which NASH is driving the continuing growth of cirrhosis in the global population. It also revealed the degree to which efforts to reduce or eliminate NAFLD were lacking a strategy, an idea of the burden or sense of economic consequences.
From here, the discussion shifts to looking at similarities and differences between HIV and Fatty Liver Disease. One key similarity: a patient can have this disease for a long time before having to address it. A key difference: the steps one takes to combat infectious disease vs. what is more of a “lifestyle” disease.
Next, the group discussed Jeff’s path to help shape a global consensus around the need to treat Fatty Liver and an action plan regarding how to do so. The first key was to determine how many countries are prepared to deal with NAFLD. Answer: out of 102 the group explored, none were prepared. This led to a two-year process with 218 global stakeholders to develop a global consensus statement on goals and actions, which we discussed on S2 E59. With these pieces in place, the global stakeholder group is working on a framework of sustainable development goals.
In response to a question from Louise regarding the impact of COVID-19 on these efforts, Jeff stated public leaders have not and will not educate the public on the impact of diet and exercise on the disease.. As a result, NAFLD Public Health advocates need to educate leaders on why public safety and nutritious diets are goals for fighting Fatty Liver.
NOTE: It emerges that the countries with the best public preparedness for NAFLD are those that take guidance from hepatologists.
In response to a question from Roger, Jeff suggested the attitude that bad health behavior is an individual right but paying the costs of the result disease is a social cost is not new. Specifically, he noted that this attitude is not different from what we see with tobacco or alcohol. He went on to discuss the importance of promoting public health, not only as a way to improve individual behaviors but also to create and focus advocates. Today, he states, we are failing both to diagnose the disease earlier and to invigorate providers, patients and social actors to behave in ways that reduce the rate and severity of what is in many ways a lifestyle disease.
A comment from Roger about the relationship between urgency and action leads Jeff to discuss the “terribly unsexy”attribution fraction, a statistical analysis that estimates the percentage of severe liver outcomes that are attributable to a specific disease (for example, NAFLD vs. Hep C.)
As the conversation closed, Jeff discussed his priorities for 2022: (i) to create and work with partnerships to take actions that give life and substance to the consensus recommendations; and (b) to create more consensus opportunities around the work of Wilton Park and possibly a similar meeting in the Americas.